10 Money-Saving Secrets Car Rental Companies Don’t Want You to Know

Knowing the ins and outs of car rental companies can save you money and time.

car rental
Updated May 28, 2024
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As Americans start to travel more, rental cars are becoming a high-demand item for vacations or other trips that you may have been putting off for the past two years. But there are things that the rental company may not want you to know when you rent a car.

For example, a car at a non-airport lot may have fewer fees than one you get from the airport desk. And there may be things such as insurance or gas that you want to hold off paying for if you’re on a budget.

Here are a few things to watch out for the next time you rent a car.

Look into rental insurance

Orathai/Adobe car dealer provides advice on loans

One of the first things you may be wondering is if the rental car insurance they offer you is a waste of money. Car rental companies may try to add insurance as part of your package, but you might not need it.

Before you have a salesperson talk you into rental insurance at the counter, check with your own car insurance to see if rentals are covered as part of your policy. Some of the best car insurance companies may already include that coverage, which means you could be wasting money on coverage you don’t need.

Don’t pre-purchase gas

zimmytws/Adobe putting money into the gas tank

Pre-purchasing fuel is an option given by most rental agencies but not one you necessarily want to take. By pre-purchasing fuel, you’re paying for a full tank of gas without the need to fill up the tank before you return the car.

That may sound convenient, but it also means you’re paying for a full tank and the rental car company will not give you a refund if you don’t use all that gas. So unless you plan to drive into the rental lot with a few drops left in the tank, it’s better to just refuel the car before you return it.

And an app like GasBuddy will show you the lowest price gas and the location, so you don’t have to go searching in an unfamiliar town. For other great money-saving tools, check out this list of the best travel apps .

Discount codes can cut costs

MclittleStock/Adobe smartphone promo code

Like other retailers, car rental companies may have some discount codes floating around that you can use to your advantage.

When you’re making a reservation or picking up a car, check online to see if there are discount codes that you can apply to your rental. Check sites like Retail Me Not or Coupons.com to see what kind of discount codes may work for your rental.

You also may want to check Groupon for deals that you can use toward your next rental. And don’t forget possible member discounts if you belong to an organization like AAA, USAA, or AARP.

Reserve through Costco

dennizn/Adobe Costco Wholesale store

One of the many Costco member benefits that you may not know about is renting a car through Costco Travel. Getting your rental car reserved through Costco may allow you to add an additional driver for free.

Renting through Costco may also let you skip cancellation fees if you decide to change or cancel your reservation. And if you’re a Costco Executive Member, you could earn a 2% reward on your rental.

Related: 6 Genius Hacks Costco Shoppers Must Know

Airport locations have extra fees

shantihesse/Adobe Car rental at Frankfurt Airport

Airports are a great place to pick up a rental car if you’re flying in from somewhere else. But airport car rental locations may include other airport or transportation fees.

Instead, look into renting from a car rental company that’s close to the airport but not that close. A short trip by a ride-hailing company may cost a little extra but could still be less than the fees attached to getting a rental car at the airport.

Do your research ahead of time and see if you can save money by going off-site, and if the hassle of not being at the airport is worth the price difference.

Inspect car for damage

baranq/Adobe young woman making phone call to insurance agent

It may take a bit of extra time, but you want to make sure you walk around the vehicle with someone from the rental car agency to make sure any damage has been accounted for before you drive off the lot.

If you don’t, any dings or issues you might miss could be charged to your account when you return the car. Remember to also look at the interior of the car as well as the exterior for any issues as well.

You can get a reasonable upgrade

alfa27/Adobe car salesman talking to a client

Depending on what’s available, you may be able to negotiate an upgrade for a reasonable rate when you are at the rental counter to get your car. Don’t be afraid to ask the person behind the desk how much a vehicle upgrade is or if there are extras they may be able to add to your rental agreement.

Pro tip: Some of the best travel credit cards may be able to get you an upgrade or discounted rental before you actually pick up your car. Check with your credit card provider to see what kind of deals they can get you.

Join a member program

bnenin/Adobe smiling car saleswoman discussing a contract

Some rental companies have member rewards programs that are free to join and can start giving you benefits immediately. Hertz, for example, has the Hertz Gold Plus Rewards program that allows you to have faster checkout or redeem points for free rental days.

Enterprise Plus also lets you earn points that you can exchange for free rental days or rental upgrades depending on how often you rent a car. And because these programs are free, you don’t have to pay to start earning benefits.

Time can save you money

flowertiare/Adobe view from the back seat of the car

The time you choose to rent a car could save you money depending on when you’re traveling during the year.

If you can wait until after a holiday, for example, you may be able to get a car at a discounted rate. Rental car companies don’t want extra cars on their lot after a holiday. Or they may need to rebalance inventory and will be happy to give you a lower rate to get a car out of the lot. A rental car sitting in the lot isn’t earning any money for the company.

Shop around

Angelov/Adobe laptop screen displaying a car sale

Your first instinct may be to go directly to the car rental company’s website and book directly through them. But the websites you may use to find the best deals on airline tickets could also find the best deals on rental cars. Sites like Kayak, Trivago, and Expedia can compare rental costs across several different providers to help you find the best deal.

And once you do book your rental car, you may want to keep checking back on occasion to see if rates have changed. You may be able to rebook your car at a lower rate.

Bottom line

Studio Romantic/Adobe young woman buys a car

There are plenty of wonderful places to go on your next work trip or vacation. Before you book your car rental, make sure you know what to look for. And keep an eye on those upgrades and extra fees a car rental company may want to charge. To get the best deal, you need to be prepared before you get to the rental counter.

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Author Details

Jenny Cohen

Jenny Cohen is a freelance writer who has covered a bit of everything, from finance to sports to her favorite TV shows. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and FoxSports.com.